This is a strange ghost story, as ghost stories go. The premise is a group of people who volunteer to spend time in the Hill House to study the hauntiThis is a strange ghost story, as ghost stories go. The premise is a group of people who volunteer to spend time in the Hill House to study the haunting phenomena from a scientific perspective. They’re initially strangers under Hill House roof and the relationships start off happily, buoyed by eagerness and excitement. The story is told from Eleanor’s point of view, coming from a sheltered and restrained life and who attempts to pass herself off as one of the cool kids. Theodora and Luke are actual, dyed-in-the-wool cool kids and the older doctor Dr. Montague is a cool father figure to all of them. As Eleanor strives for acceptance and to overcome her own internalized imposture syndrome, the group dynamic marginalizes her and she drifts between hope and resentment. Oh well, at least the House is her friend.
Thoroughly good read, quite touching at times, though the style is a little difficult to follow at times, flitting between the factual and metaphorical in keeping with Eleanor's inner turmoil....more
Set in Brazil, this is about a boy at odds with his strange and irresistible attraction to a haughty adoptive sister. Told in fragments, the setting fSet in Brazil, this is about a boy at odds with his strange and irresistible attraction to a haughty adoptive sister. Told in fragments, the setting flits from beach to the hotel where he lives with his activist mother whose political actions against the bauxite-producing local mines imperils her family, making her striking and strange daughter a target.
I was read excerpts from the novella at a public reading, and I must admit I got the gist of it all wrong, having been told beforehand that an Amazonian god played a central role in the story, I imagined that the excerpts were told from the god's perspective. Indeed, at many points in the story it could almost seem so, but on reading it throughout I interpret the disjointed style as the product of a young and troubled mind rather than the caprices of a supernatural being....more
Well, this book could really be titled "On Becoming a Novelist in America" because it's really US-centric. The rest of the world, for instance, won'tWell, this book could really be titled "On Becoming a Novelist in America" because it's really US-centric. The rest of the world, for instance, won't care that Iowa has a good creative writing program but that Stanford's is no slouch either. But that doesn't take anything away from it, a mix of craft guide, insider wisdom and above all the cumulative experience of the author's many years teaching creative writing in a university setting.
It's enlightening to read that creative writing teachers, while not exactly making it up as they go along, hold to a diverse set of values and goals, though he affirms that in the end it doesn't matter what values are used so long as the students are free to adopt or buck them. No values is bad values, because it leaves the student at the mercy of fashion and unending subjectivity. Any fledgling writer will want to pay close attention to the section that highlights the signs that you may be in a bad workshop.
I really enjoyed the author's take on the pithy one-liners that circulate in writing circles. For instance, "show, don't tell" isn't widely applicable at all, it only applies to describing emotions and internal states, or which basic adjectives are often wanting. "Write what you know" is another one that, while not debunked, gets a deeper treatment than it suggests. Theme is not all that’s it’s hyped either.
There's stuff to keep from it and anyone reading it will disregard certain aspects or passages, but the weight of experience in this work is apparent and enriching....more
Mankind has conquered Time Travel and a society of guardians, the Eternals, regulate human activity by small interventions that are calculated to optiMankind has conquered Time Travel and a society of guardians, the Eternals, regulate human activity by small interventions that are calculated to optimize human happiness in all the centuries in which man still exists. A member of the Eternals seeks to buck his responsibility to Eternity though, when his love for a Timer contravenes the Eternal's code of conduct.
There's a good deal of world-building in the opening chapters of this book, so much that I began to worry that that's all there was, but small flaws in the description of the utopia described through the regulating actions of the Eternals build up and lead to a richly layered narrative that flits between the love story, flimsy at first but steadily more believable, and the larger context of the relationship between the Timers and the Eternals, the politicking between the Eternals themselves, and the light shone on the small mysteries in the fabric of the curated universe as they converge and coalesce, becoming more gripping as the story moves into a conflict for the very survival of Eternity itself. Riveting read! ...more
There is a lot of mention of sorghum in this book. Sorghum is a grain, and a type of wine can be made of it. From early on in the novel, it weaves intThere is a lot of mention of sorghum in this book. Sorghum is a grain, and a type of wine can be made of it. From early on in the novel, it weaves into the narrative and enfolds the main characters together. After a while, you wonder how the narrative would hold if it weren’t for the sorghum, as a living embodiment of China’s Gaomi Township. If it weren’t for the sorghum, it’s hard to imagine what is keeping the story together, because it leaps across styles just as it leaps across a generation, encompassing the narrator’s grandparents and parents. It’s a country tale, then a love story, then a bandit tale, then a war epic, then a far-east western, then a martial arts story, then a mafia story, then a folk tale, back to love, then a fairy tale, and still it goes on with only the sorghum to bear witness as the narrator’s grandfather woos a small-footed woman promised to the wealthy and leprous son of a distillery owner. The distillery is for making Sorghum wine, and the narrator’s grandparents make a ‘special’ brew that draws instant fame in the surrounding area.
War looms large in the novel, the Gaomi armies fighting the Japanese almost as hard as they fight themselves. It lends the characters a heroism that draws their flaws into stark contrast and makes them relatable even as it seems they would be lost without the excesses that lead to their demise. An exciting, multi-faced and constantly transforming read....more
Brothers mostly fight out competition for their parents' love. They're forbidden from harming one another, but sometimes it's really, really hard to r Brothers mostly fight out competition for their parents' love. They're forbidden from harming one another, but sometimes it's really, really hard to respect that rule, especially when the sibling is acting all pure and disinterested and you know, you just know, that's it's all an act and they're doing it just to barb you.
This is a retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel. It draws its strength by making the father an actual father, replacing the mother figure by a wise, bookish Chinese man, and making the original mother a psychopath and sexual manipulator. It takes a monster to reveal the characters' penchant for violence. There's a father monster one generation above, intent on sending his sons to war to assuage his ego as a military expert. Since he's the father of the father, one might posit that we're delving into the Greek myth of Chronos who eats his own children. Then there's the other monster, a psychopathic mother who abandons her children. Monsters do their job by reminding us how necessary it is to remain human and allow compassion and openness to guide us. ...more
Billed as a young adult book, but I wouldn't recommend for such. There's porcine rape in which the victim gets executed for not getting impregnated byBilled as a young adult book, but I wouldn't recommend for such. There's porcine rape in which the victim gets executed for not getting impregnated by it, which is a harsh worldview. This harsh worldview, however, is what allows for the narrator to convey really touching sentiments, in the way he accepts that this is his world and how he loves it in spite of its brutality....more
The novel purpots to get the reader inside the mind of a suicide bomber. The intention is interesting, but it fails on execution, (view spoiler)[muchThe novel purpots to get the reader inside the mind of a suicide bomber. The intention is interesting, but it fails on execution, (view spoiler)[much like the suicide bomber, in fact (hide spoiler)].
I found the dialogues to be contrived. They come off as though spoken for some generic western reader whose image of the Middle East is fraught with caricature.
Here's an example:
“If the West could only understand our music, if it could even just listen to us sing, if it could hear our soul in the voices of Sabah Fakhri and Wadi es-Safi and Abdelwaheb and Asmahan and Umm Kulthum—if it could commune with our world—I think it would renounce its cutting-edge technology, its satellites, and its armies and follow us to the end of our art….”
In fact, the characters often remark on being depicted as caricatures, which is ironic because the "west" is just as blithely depicted in caricature.
My main criticism, though, is that I don't find it believable that someone will suddenly go from pacifist to suicide bomber because (view spoiler)[soldiers exposed him to the sight of his father's penis (hide spoiler)].
There are some interesting character developments and the plot is at times quite suspenseful, but overall it didn't work for me, and the ending is something of a cop-out.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A dying reverend's story, addressed to his young son, touching on different aspects of the life he lead in the rural town of Gilead. Having a heart coA dying reverend's story, addressed to his young son, touching on different aspects of the life he lead in the rural town of Gilead. Having a heart condition, he knows his life won’t last very much longer and that his son will grow up with only early childhood memories of his father, so he sets about putting his life and thoughts to the page to provide the continuity that the son will most probably later require.
A lot happened in and around Gilead, and the reverend’s story is one that spans three generations of reverends, with their similarities and inevitable discords.
The reverend’s depiction of his life is tedious at first. It comes off as a lot of humblebrag, congratulating himself on the steadfastly pious life he has led, the few minor indulgences he allowed himself (basically books) and the ease with which he accepted God’s will in the hardships endured. He gives thanks for meeting a good woman late in life and having a son.
Then, gradually, a character sneaks his way into the story and steals the narrative, forcing the reverend to confront the areas of darkness in Gilead’s and his own past, that he hadn’t intended to. Jack Ames Boughton, his namesake, the prodigal son of a fellow preacher friend, who comes back to Gilead at his father’s request, yet whose true intentions remain veiled. The reverend, though he won’t admit it outright, fears that Jack is there to take his place when he departs, to woo his widow and install himself in his house. In order to credibly warn his son against the man that he believes Jack Boughton to be, he has to delve into Jack’s past, inextricably linked to his own, and which exposes areas of his life that he initially had not intended to expose.
The reverend’s story is touching because it is flawed, because his language is repetitive and often self-indulgent. For instance, he often flatly states “that is a remarkable thing” about just about anything. Or, “this planet is deserving of all the attention that one can give it”, which could arguably be said about just about any planet. Sometimes, the modesty is infuriating: he’ll affirm something, then add that he doesn't quite understand it, though he clearly does, as when he quotes “things that don't exist in relation to other things cannot be said to exist at all”. He repeatedly lauds existence as a remarkable thing, but what is he comparing it to, inexistence?
The gloves come off though, so to speak, when he realizes that his wife feels a growing sympathy for Jack Boughton. We writes, “It is one of the best traits of good people that they love where they pity. And this is truer of women than of men.” His business with Jack is far from finished, however, and Jack’s developing story compels him to inspect his own life with a more probing eye, revealing truths more profound because they are more painful, but for whom he can ultimately only be thankful for, being the reverend that he is.
I found it quite challenging to get into the mind of this reverend who seldom if ever left his small town, who remains steadfastly attached to his faith and his tranquil and (mostly) unexciting life, but I’m glad I did. The reverend’s life, with all its myriad renunciations, is made all the more engaging for the beauty he sees in the world....more